MINNEAPOLIS - The more things change, the more they stay the same for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Wednesday night’s loss to the Orlando Magic, which had lost six straight entering the night, is the latest example. The Wolves had a two-point lead late in regulation, Jarred Vanderbilt missed two free throws that could’ve iced the game and Cole Anthony hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer over Malik Beasley.
The Timberwolves lose 97-96, and it’s another gut punch for a franchise that lately is only finding more ways to lose. It’s how they lost Wednesday night that’s the most frustrating for the franchise. The Wolves outscored the Magic 30-10 in the second quarter to lead 51-35 at the half.
The Magic chipped away at the deficit before the game-winning shot. The Wolves led by 13 points with six minutes to play, 10 with three minutes to play. But poor execution on both ends of the floor at the most crucial time, and it led to their 10th loss in the last 11 games.
"All I can say is I just feel like we gave the game away. We had control of the game the whole fourth quarter. We just let them walk it down and do what they wanted to do the whole fourth quarter," said rookie guard Anthony Edwards, who finished with eight points, but shot just 3-of-14 from the field.
Ryan Saunders chalks it up to a young team still trying to find its way, and that won’t happen overnight.
"It comes with maturity in a lot of ways. Unfortunately maturity, that’s measured by time and experience. We’ve got to find a way to not get too high when we’re up big and not get too low when you’re down big. Tonight was an example of that," Saunders said.
For the second straight game, the Wolves were without Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio and Juancho Hernangomez due to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Hernangomez is in a 10-day isolation period, Towns said publicly he’s tested positive for COVID-19 and Rubio’s status is not known.
Without their best player, the game has been a struggle for the Wolves. They’re 1-8 without Towns in the lineup, and they’re 1-10 in their last 11 games since a 2-0 start.
Saunders is taking plenty of heat on social media for the Wolves’ latest stretch, with fans wanting a change at head coach. He’s largely had to manage a roster that hasn’t had its full talent available all at the same time.
D’Angelo Russell led Minnesota with 19 points in the loss, but just four in the second half. He and Towns have played just four games together since the trade that brought Russell to Minnesota last March. Russell said after Wednesday’s loss he has sympathy for Saunders.
"I feel bad for coach because he’s not getting a fair chance to showcase our full team," Russell said. "Going back to the drawing board and trying to figure this thing out, that’s all we can do."
So how does Saunders fix it The short answer is there are no quick answers.
"Same way I always do it in a tough time. Continue to coach, continue to attack the day and take care of tomorrow so that you can take care of the day after that. That’s the only way I know how, our group will be in there working tomorrow," Saunders said.